Double Dippers

by Jeremy Alford

Despite their demanding jobs with the state, the governor’s chief attorney and health secretary have managed to find time to do a bit of moonlighting.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top staffers wear many hats — not all of them in public — when it comes to their professional lives. But during a watershed moment such as this, where disclosure reigns supreme and executive officials are touted as “superstars” by Louisiana’s Republican governor, it’s surprising to learn that holding down a carefully-cloaked second gig is something of a trend in the Jindal administration.

For instance, Jimmy Faircloth, Jindal’s chief counsel who supposedly abandoned his private practice to defend the executive branch, is back in front of the bench arguing a case that has absolutely nothing to do with his gubernatorial appointment or the peoples’ work. Additionally, Alan Levine, secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, recently wrapped up a three-month $140,000 consulting contract that he balanced with his state-salaried job.

The shared circumstances beg inquiries about the level of commitment required for such high-level government positions. Surely the governor, lawmakers and general public have expectations that high-ranking officials focus solely on their jobs — and shouldn’t any and all side work immediately be disclosed to the public?

Although he didn’t offer a comment for this story, Jindal apparently believes so, according to the first executive order he issued after taking office in January. It calls for cabinet members to disclose all financial dealings but doesn’t take effect until Jan. 15 of the year following their original commission. The lapse means any other peculiarities likely won’t come to light until after the fact.

For now, Jindal doesn’t seem keen on taking any administrative action against his two hires. Faircloth, however, has placed the governor in a precarious situation, as Jindal forced Faircloth to sever ties with his private practice in December when Faircloth announced plans to continue his legal business on the side.

One of Faircloth’s clients was the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, which operates a casino in Kinder and deals often with the state on Indian gaming issues. “Jimmy can’t try to serve two masters,” Jindal said at the time, adding that an administration championing ethics reform shouldn’t show an inkling of conflict. “We have to show we’re going beyond the letter of the law.”

According to documents obtained from the 9th Judicial District Court in Rapides Parish, Faircloth enrolled as lead counsel in an ongoing case (Dr. Tommy Granger versus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital) on May 1, which appears to conflict with Jindal’s initial wishes. In a prepared statement issued through the governor’s press secretary, Faircloth says the case was first filed in 2003 and was scheduled to be tried in January, just as he accepted Jindal’s offer.

“The Rules of Professional Responsibility prevented me from withdrawing without client consent, and there was not enough time to prepare another attorney even if the client consented,” says Faircloth. “Thus, the client agreed to continue the trial provided that I would re-enroll.” The case is now scheduled for November 2008, at which time Faircloth could very well end up arguing the case as a “sole practitioner, not as a member of my former firm.”

If the case does go to trial, Faircloth says he would do the work pro bono in his private time. “This arrangement properly balances my ethical obligations as both an attorney and a public servant,” he says.

As for Levine, he says his side consulting work was done during personal time as well. When asked if he views his position as secretary with DHH as a 9-to-5 job, Levine answered yes, explaining that was how he was able to juggle responsibilities. The lucrative consulting position, which ran from January to March, was an extension of Levine’s previous job as the top administrator at the North Broward Hospital District in Florida. When he accepted Jindal’s offer to become secretary and quit the Florida gig, he says a severance package was built into the contract calling for him to serve as a consultant. The transitional help, though, would overlap during his first months as DHH’s secretary. Asked if Jindal knew about the situation, Levine said, “I doubt it.”

In his own written statement, again issued by Jindal’s press secretary last week, Levine argued that referring to him as a “consultant” for the Florida hospital was incorrect. “It is not appropriate to characterize my separation agreement as anything but that — a separation agreement,” he says. “I did what any responsible CEO would do to ensure a proper transition of a public enterprise. I simply made myself available.”

“Additionally, Broward Health has no business in the state of Louisiana, is a public, government owned entity, and all these decisions were made in the sunshine at open meetings and have been reported on in the press,” Levine adds. “This was done openly, and was consistent with my contractual obligations. Consistent with the ethics laws in Louisiana, I have every intention of disclosing this when I file my disclosure.”

In their written responses, both men alluded to Louisiana’s new ethics laws, which, now that they’re on the books, make Faircloth’s and Levine’s side jobs an even bigger story. Jindal may have given his top aides the Biblical admonition that they can’t serve two masters, but at least in these two cases, it’s perfectly clear that exceptions can be made.